Although they may make your clothes seem soft and smell "sweet", fabric softener and dryer sheets are some of the most toxic products around. And chances are that the staggering 99.8 percent of Americans who use common commercial detergents, fabric softeners, bleaches, and stain removers would think twice if they knew they contained chemicals that could cause cancer and brain damage.

Here is a list of just some of the chemicals found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets:

  • Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer

  • Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant

  • Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders

  • Limonene: Known carcinogen

  • A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage

  • Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA's Hazardous Waste list

  • Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders

  • Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic

  • Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders

  • Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled

So how could products with pretty names like Soft Ocean Mist, Summer Orchard and April Fresh be so dangerous?

The chemicals in fabric softeners are pungent and strong smelling -- so strong that they require the use of these heavy fragrances (think 50 times as much fragrance) just to cover up the smells. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics, which are the reason fabric softeners were created in the first place, do not smell good either when heated in a dryer or heated by our bodies ... hence the need for even more hefty fragrances.

Fabric softeners leave an oil coating on clothes, which doesn’t really leave them softer or fluffy. This oil builds up on the fibers and takes the absorbency out (oil repels water). In the dryer, fabric softener leaves a sticky residue on all the components like the moisture sensors and drum of the dryer. This residue is very flammable, which is why on the back of some fabric softeners it tells you not to use on towels, terrycloth or fleece. The number one cause of house fires is the dryer. Fabric softeners even take the fire retardant out of baby’s clothes.

There are alternatives:

Anti-Static Ball (slightly different than dryer balls)
Dryer Balls
Here are some home-made DIY ideas
The Static Eliminator Dryer Sheet System

Do yourself and your family and your neighbors a big favor and skip the dryer sheets and fabric softener. Thanks, in advance, for your consideration.


Slayde said...

Thanks for the info. I don't use dryer sheets or fabric softener (from growing up with parents who were against such things, of course), but I've always wondered why fabric-softened towels were so maddeningly un-absorbent. It all makes sense now.

Billy said...

Please advise as to where a link to cancer has been established. What type of caner, any studies to support this claim.

Billy said...

email it to me please

Jeanne said...

I found your blog via a friend's link to this post on Facebook (a link which I am about to do a 'share' on). Since a large proportion of my Facebook friends are multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) patients like me, I expect you'll get some visitors from the 'share' (hopefully).

Thank you for writing about the dangers of these products! If enough people speak with their pocketbooks and stop supporting the companies that sell them, it will be major progress.

Fabric softeners make me extremely ill. I can't sit or stand near anyone who has marinated his/her clothes in it. It doesn't take long for me to detect who is a fabric softener devotee... just by standing anywhere near him/her.


Abby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abby said...

I use Bounce free & sensitive (no dyes or fragrances). All it says for ingredients is "Bounce contains biodegradable cationic softeners." What does that mean, and are these softeners harmful?

self-righteous said...

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to respond. I'm also sorry that I can't email my answer to you -- I don't have any way to see your email address.
Here's what I've found doing a bit of research ONLY on Limonene, one of the ingredients in fabric softeners/dryer sheets: the studies done by chemists, biologists and M.D.s indicate that it is a known carcinogen and is taken into the body through the skin and through inhalation. I imagine if you google any of the other ingredients you will find scientific research pointing to the danger of using them.
The bottom line is: there've been no tests to determine the safety of these ingredients and you have so many alternatives, why would you use something so poisonous?

self-righteous said...

Good question. In researching it, I discovered that I need a Ph.D. in Chemistry (and maybe Physics) to really understand and then be able to explain what "cationic" means. It has to do with electrical charge, as far as I can determine. And to get that particular charge, chemicals are used. Acids. Very corrosive materials.

Again, the bottom line is: why use it when you can either use nothing (try it a few times and see what you think), or use something with only botanical ingredients? I've also been reading about the effectiveness of white vinegar added to the wash (NO bleach NO bleach NO bleach -- vinegar and bleach are a very dangerous combination!).
And, last but not least, when you spend your money on Bounce, you're supporting a company that uses and will continue to use, very harmful chemicals in their products. Give your money to someone who actually cares about you and your family.

self-righteous said...

welcome to You Stink! Thank you for your support and for dropping by. I wish you all the best in your battles.

Now we need to reach the people who have no idea how toxic their products are.

bantamchicken said...

It's really staggering how most people don't know about how toxic their laundry products are. I can't even breathe if I'm near someone who uses dryer sheets. I told my Dad to switch his laundry products from bounce and other chemical offenders, and his "mystery rash" of two years disappeared!

Anonymous said...

ANy idea what is in the Meleluca brand? My MIL swears their stuff is so natural, but I have my suspicions. I make my own soap and use vineger instead of softener. I hate any stink that interrupts my whole stinky hippie funk ;)

Self-righteous said...

Re: Melaleuca brand products
I did a little checking and they do use some questionable (and in the case of their sunscreen, very dangerous) ingredients in their personal care items. I know that many people have a strong reaction to melaleuca oil -- rashes, blisters and so on. It's a very potent botanical and should be used with care.
I personally would not use their products simply because the company is an MLM and I'm funny that way.
I think vinegar is the smartest alternative you can use.

Anonymous said...

I use vinegar instead of fabric softener. It works, and reduces static cling when I can't line dry. I used to use fabric softener, until I found out what was in it! We are surrounded by chemicals so why use more than we have to?

robbie said...

My two freinds are ill with different symptoms they have lived above a laundromat for seven years SHOULD THEY MOVE OUT ????

Self-righteous said...

I cannot say whether moving somewhere else is the solution, but if it were me, I would not be able to tolerate the fumes for any length of time. I can't even spend one night on sheets that have been dried with dryer sheets. Inhaling the fumes from a laundromat is definitely harmful and could be the cause of your friends' various physical problems. Your friends are the only ones who can weigh the costs of staying against the costs of moving. If they can find the resources to get the heck out of there, then by all means, go someplace else.
Best of luck.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Self-righteous said...

@anonymous commenter who wanted their products listed:
I don't support or promote MLMs. Thank you for dropping by.

Abdel Irada said...

Thank you for bringing these issues into lively conversation in an imaginative, humor-leavened blog that may attract those readers whom a more conventional, "serious" presentation would repel.

It is timely that I have encountered this page, because my wife and I (who may have MCS, although our doctors bridle at the idea of diagnosing so "controversial" a condition) have been suffering intensely from the effects of neighbors' dryer fumes, in both our current and former homes.

Our previous next-door neighbor felt he had a grudge against him, and, noting that his dryer vented six feet from our living room (where we were sleeping at the time, having been driven from our bedroom by a sewer leak), he began to use the dryer to harass us.

Over a period of five months, he was working a late shift from which he'd return at 3 a.m. By 3:05, his dryer would go on, and remain on until 7:00, when he went to sleep. This behavior continued, with modifications, when his schedule changed. On one occasion, he ran the dryer continuously for 11 hours. And the worst of it was that there were many occasions when we could tell from the sound of the dryer that there was nothing in it except a few dryer sheets.

This paragon moved out two months before we did, and we enjoyed two months of eating meals that didn't taste like perfume with a sickly, waxy undertaste; of using our home without daily, intense headaches; of not feeling perpetually tired, stultified and depressed; of looking through eyes that weren't always red-rimmed and burning; of breathing without dire dread of what we were putting in our lungs.

If it weren't for the mold, the sewer leak and several other noxious neighbors who spent their time, day and night, crowding the atmosphere with smoke from whatever tainted fuel they chose to put in their fireplaces, and the freeway two blocks away, one might have been able to take a *deep* breath there.

Now we've moved into an apartment, and three days after we did so, we discovered that *two* of our neighbors vent their dryers across an eight-foot, fenced breezeway directly at our walls, one upstairs and one downstairs.

Unsurprisingly, they both use dryer sheets/fabric softener. Rather more surprising is how much of the time their dryers spend in use.

(To be continued.)

Abdel Irada said...

(Continued from previous comment.)

Unlike the previous neighbor, these individuals have no cause for personal malice. But it's sometimes hard to remember that, when between the two, there was at least one dryer actively venting at us, to the best of our knowledge and belief, from Sunday around noon until Wednesday evening.

We've spoken to the apartment manager, but he uses fabric softener despite my advising him of its poisonous contents, and predictably says, "It's none of my business if your neighbors do their laundry 24 hours a day."

This attitude is one that we have found discouragingly common among people with the formal authority to intervene against what amounts to an act of chemical battery.

All of this is presumably due to ignorance, and I'd hope at least a significant fraction of our countrymen would reconsider using these poison-packed products if they knew what was in them.

But we have two enemies in our quest of warning: Our corporate/governmental "leaders," who profit from the present arrangement, and the master psychologists of Madison Avenue.

So profoundly have these ghouls debauched consumers' thinking that my wife and I were able to observe the following scene at our local supermarket: A thirty-ish mother had opened a bottle of Downy fabric softener and was holding it under the nose of the toddler in her grocery cart, saying, "Mmm! Doesn't that smell *gooood*? Isn't that delicious? *Mmmmm!"*

(Yes. Mmmm. Smell the delectable neurotoxins. Smell your kid's cerebellum starting to atrophy. Smell the gradual chemical murder-suicide.)

As long as such scenes are not rare -- and it is likely that they are very common indeed -- we face terrible odds.

Perhaps a petition, signed by enough people and demanding that (1) the FDA be required to regulate the chemical and fragrance industries and (2) the industries be ordered to display their ingredients would be worth trying. (Unfortunately, my computer is too antiquated to let me do this; I've tried and failed to upload one.)

Keith Scott said...

I would pay to remove the oders from drier sheets.Don't want to drive by a home using them or be around anyone who does.I can drive by a STRONG shunk but I don't stink the all day like a drier sheet user.I would sooner fall down in a cattle fed lot on a rainy day than be around anyone who PAYS to STINK like that.

self-righteous said...

Thank you Abdel and Keith. I appreciate your comments/stories. Remember:

Anonymous said...

Why does the smell of BOUNCE fabric softener "Outdoor Fresh" sheets? It penetrates through cereal boxes and through the plastic bag inside. The cereal smells and tastes like Bounce.
After I cook rice from a bag in the same cupboard as Bounce Sheets, the rice also smells and tastes like Bounce!! etc.

self-righteous said...

@Anonymous: Basically the petro-chemicals, more specifically phthalates, embed into everything. I think they're nanoparticles and can travel, permeate, cling, saturate. Imagine having gasoline soaked rags in plastic bags inside your cereal box. I believe everything in the vicinity of that box would stink and would be poisonous. Perhaps a letter to the cereal company would be a good start. Thanks for your comment

Anonymous said...

U don't want to drive by a home that uses dryer sheets??? OMG that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

Abdel Irada said...


I take it you're not in the habit of listening to yourself.

TNitemare said...

I have been getting rashes lately and so has my chihuahua, who also has sensitive skin. I thought it was from the Downey fabric softener I used, because I've had slight reactions to it in the past. I'm highly sensitive to Snuggle fabric softener also.
I have been using white vinegar as an alternative with a little Suavitel fabric softener and have had less problems. Someone switched the Suavitel to Downey and I was unaware until the rash showed up on my dog (she sleeps in my bed with me). Now I realize it must be the dryer sheets also because I sometimes will put two in the dryer to get rid of the static cling. My poor dog; her skin got so dry and she looked like a lobster with acne! I'm going to stop the dryer sheets, but is there a natural way to fight the static from the dryer?
Any suggestions would be appreciated!

tradehead said...

Oh man, you've got that right Jeanne. It's absolutely nauseating!